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Women's football: Sad end to Team GB's Olympic dream

England might be the reigning champions of Europe and recent World Cup finalists yet there will be no Team GB going for gold at next summer's Olympics in France.

Britain's quest for a qualifying spot ended in disappointment and no little controversy, with previous Lionesses' feats over the last few star-studded seasons counting for nothing.

Sarina Wiegman, the coach who has so transformed the international fortunes of England's women, said it "really hurts" to know that neither she nor her players have a shot at going to the Paris Games.

And while it is a bitter blow with women's football riding such a high, the pain of failure won't be allowed to last long – qualification for Euro 2025 begins in February, some five months before the Olympic tournament has even kicked off.

Almost on top of the world – but not going to France

Given the success enjoyed by England's Lionesses over the past few years, it does seem remarkable that there will not be a GB team at the Olympics.

And while that might not sound like a big deal to armchair male football fans, it absolutely is. In the women's game, the Olympics are huge, as evidenced by the wholesale dismay felt by Wiegman, her staff and players, and even many ex-internationals, after their fate was sealed.

UEFA was awarded two spots alongside hosts France at the Olympics but rather than use this year's World Cup as a qualifier – where England were runners-up to Spain – the governing body preferred to go with the 2023/24 Nations League which has been running this season.

England, as the nominated nation to qualify on behalf of Team GB, had to win their group but missed out by the narrowest of margins.

The Lionesses went into their last round of matches pretty much needing a miracle and almost pulled it off, coming from 2-0 down to beat fellow heavyweights Netherlands 3-2 and then thrashing Scotland 6-0. A seventh goal would have seen them through on goal difference ahead of the Dutch. That's how fine the margins were.

The Dutch reckon justice was done having been uneasy at England playing Scotland in the final round of games. Their argument was that with a number of Scotland players hoping to be a part of any Team GB squad, there were accusations regarding their integrity heading into match against the Lionesses.

Wiegman admitted it was "not an easy solution" but insisted Scottish pride ensured they would give it their best shot at Hampden Park, where England were just far too good.

Olympic omission will be felt by Wiegman's team

Netherlands, Germany and world champions Spain will join France in February's Nations League A play-offs with the French and two of the other three countries heading for the Olympics.

For England it means a quick reset before they go again on the road to Euro 2025.

"Of course it hurts when you don't qualify because you want to be in major tournaments and we wanted to win the Nations League group," said England's head coach.

And there is no doubting that the 12-team Olympics is a big-ticket event featuring the world's top sides – minus GB, or England.

France will be there, so too the United States, who will be coached by Chelsea boss Emma Hayes at a major finals for the first time. Brazil have qualified, so too Canada and a couple of top European sides will also be in the final dozen.

Lionesses need to learn lessons heading into Euro 2025

Wiegman's team will instead be focusing on the road to Euro 2025 for which they will be among the favourites as defending champions and World Cup finalists.

But the growth of the game globally, a narrowing of the gap and a reliance on a key group of players, have meant England have underwhelmed quite often throughout 2023 and suddenly the top level of the women's game looks incredibly competitive.

Pretty much invincible around the time of the last Euros and beyond, since April the Lionesses have played 17 internationals and failed to win eight of them.

Defeats in the Netherlands and Belgium during this current Nations League campaign proved calamitous and while Wiegman hasn't shied away from criticism, she's insistent there are mitigating factors.

"It's not easy to keep performing, we need a high level and sometimes it dropped," she said after the win over Scotland.

"But in the bigger picture is that we have to look at the calendar and think that the players are not robots and they need some rest too, that's very obvious."

They also need to realise that the gap between the best and the rest is narrowing and while Olympic failure is inevitably a cause for disappointment, it could actually be a blessing in disguise.

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